An album a decade-plus in the making, A Written Testimony is Jay Electronica’s thumping autobiography and manifesto.
For most of the past decade, Jay Electronica has been more myth than man. After dropping a mixtape in 2007, the MC appeared only in rumors, features, and singles, none of which suggested the character of his eventual label debut. In many ways, A Written Testimony is the tale of two Jays, with Hov himself both presiding over and playing hype man for Jay Electronica’s (re)emergence. But perhaps most surprising is Z’s willingness to provide auxiliary support here. Watch the Throne succeeded on its spectacle, an ego collision that wrung creation from gladiatorial battle. A Written Testimony is diametric to the Ye-Jay collab: it’s anointment, and Jay-Z demonstrates a new evolutionary facet in his career renaissance by operating chameleonically, spitting tête-à-tête across verses and sharing space in a way never felt on WTT. He’s ever-present on the album, but always contorting his style and function to fit his protege’s clear vision, a fitting act of blessing-giving for an album built on spiritual expression.
Jay Electronica’s concerns on A Written Testimony can be largely synthesized into various dualities — life and death, regret and celebration, peace and pain — and he captures these ruminations in both cosmic and grounded fashion. On “A.P.I.D.T.A,” a melancholy ode on loss that finds consolation in earthly impermanence, he reasons, “The clothes we wear to bed at night to sleep is just pajamas / The flesh we roam this earth in is a blessing not a promise.” On “Fruits of the Spirit” his interest is more immediate: “Like Vince Staples said, we just wadin’ in the water / My people out in Flint still bathin’ in the slaughter / ICE out here rippin’ families apart at the border.” There’s a fiercely intelligent contemplativeness to Jay’s mystic-minded writing, an understanding of the infinity of seeking, that keeps his more piffling observations from devolving into cheap banality. On “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” the rapper even manages to not just shout out Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, which may be the definitive cornball novel, but to turn that work’s climactic, puerile metaphor into an affecting commentary on his much-speculated time out of the spotlight: “Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my pen / Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my sin / Sometimes, like Santiago, at crucial points of my novel / My only logical option was to transform into the wind.” All of this thematic clarity is buttressed by the rapper’s smooth, drawled flow — few others could successfully open a song by rhyming “tale of” with “squalor” — and hip hop’s best production of the year, at times industrial, at times symphonic, littered with TV and radio samples, eccentric synth work, and layered with mechanical precision. In other words, a sort of faithful chaos. A Written Testimony is exactly that — Jay’s accounting for and of his life, who he is, where he’s been, the parts he’s made of.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 1.